"The other day I remembered something I’ve spent almost two decades trying to forget. When I was 11 years old, my grandmother told me to stop holding the books I was carrying “like a girl.” We were walking out of the Southland Mall in Memphis. I can’t remember why I even had the books with me, but there they were, three slim books pressed against my chest, secured by my crossed arms.
“Well, tell me how boys carry their books,” I spat. And, without turning to look at me or pausing in her stride, my grandmother slapped me across the face with the back of her hand. I remember feeling the air whir between us. The automatic doors ahead of us opened, buzzing with the sudden mix of the mall’s air-conditioning and the sticky heat outside. She walked through, then paused on the edge of the sidewalk, waiting. Lit by sunlight that wasn’t hitting me, my grandmother looked like she was standing on the surface of another planet, perhaps a different reality altogether.
I was still standing inside the mall entranceway where I had been struck, my mouth agape, books still pressed against my chest. Speechless, for once. I was always talking back, perpetually rolling my eyes. The slap had been so sudden, so unlike my grandmother who I tended to think of as being too quiet for her own good. But what else could explain the stinging on the left side of my face? I raised a hand, touched my cheek, and smiled faintly — like a lunatic.
Realizing, finally, that she wasn’t going to say anything about what had just happened and that we could only stand like this, encased in invisible lightning, for a few seconds longer before people started staring, I started walking again. She did too. The automatic doors opened and I passed through, out into the heat.
That’s where the memory ends and the wish to forget begins. I want to believe that this memory is not who we were. Sometimes we have to forget in order to keep loving the people we need to love.”
You can read the rest of my essay here.